“SEVEN years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. My thirty-seventh birthday had just come and gone, the end of 2008 was approaching, and I was constantly aware of how little I had managed to accomplish. I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised. One December morning, the crisis finally came. I had lain down on my living room sofa and found I could not get up. The idea of another year ending with the book not done overwhelmed me.”
I read this in a New York Times article of Akhil Sharma. I find it hard to write over long periods of time, but only when I write against a deadline—whether self-imposed or not. I have never had a panic attack. I have never experienced sleeplessness. I was never really depressed, except for a short phase in my early 20s.
But, I wonder whether this has something to do with age. Male writers find it hard to write after an age. Testosterone levels start declining from the age of 30. Men do not have the strong urge to be creative, or take risks after the birth of the first child—even though they do not know why something is gone, and gone forever. It is evolutionary psychology that convinced me that I should finish my novel before I reach my early 30s— because it is now or never.
I then understood why I found life hard to bear when I was not working on my books. When I was working on something else, I felt a strong desire to go back, and finish the books. I was continually torn between the need to pay my bills, and the desire to finish the novel I have been writing all my life—figuratively speaking. There were days in which I felt that it made sense to read. But for one reason or the other, I felt compelled to write. Fortunately, my late teens and twenties were immensely productive. I wrote over 1200 pages for my blog alone. I am going to gather them into a couple of volumes.
Deep down, I probably knew why this was a matter of life and death importance. I think every male writer does. Or male composer, or artist. Evolutionary psychology explains many such puzzles: Why we act as if we know the truth, even when we do not know it, or even deny it, on a conscious level.
Post Script: I do not consider Akhil Sharma a deep thinker or a good prose stylist. But, I read his work because it is very readable. His is an approach that can at best be expressed by: “I have a story to tell, and I am going to say it.” This is a rare virtue, though I do not know why this is so rare. That is the least I expect from a writer. I have not quoted the rest of his article because he sounded like a delusional mystic. I do not know why they are so messed up in their heads. I can’t think of a single Indian writer who deserves to be taken seriously.